Tragic Underwater Fatality: Exploring the Depths of Four Shark Blue Hole Ends in Death

Tragic Underwater Fatality: Exploring the Depths of Four Shark Blue Hole Ends in Death
Incident LocationDiver Full Name
Bahamas, Four Shark Blue HoleRob Parker

An exploratory and survey dive between Rob Parker and his dive partner Dan Mallone in the Four Shark Cave didn’t go as planned. It all went well until Rob lost consciousness and started sinking at a depth of 180 ft (55 m). What happened to Rob in the deep? Could it be health issues? Faulty equipment? Did he make a mistake? Please make sure to subscribe to our channel if you are enjoying our videos and not subscribed yet!

Exploring the Four Shark Blue Hole

Four Shark Blue Hole is a seaside ocean blue hole located inside the barrier reef, along the fault line 5 km northwest of Dolly Cays, South Andros. It is one of the largest caverns in the Bahamas, whose entrance is a coral-rimmed basin about 33 ft (10 m) deep. It is also called the Kalik Cavern, and it is 230 ft (70 m) long, 66 ft (20 m) wide, and as deep as 197 ft (60 m).

There is a narrow crack at 131 ft (40 m) depth at the far end of the cavern; it descends into an extension of the rift, which has a depth of between 164 and 344 ft (50 and 105 m) or greater. The base of the entrance zone consists of sand and fine white silt. Whenever there is a strong tidal current, the water in the reef is mixed up with the water in the interior part of the cave.

Rob Parker’s Dive History

On August 17th, 1997, Rob Parker went for a dive at the Blue Hole. Rob Parker was a 35-year-old diver who had spent a lot of time diving, with special dedication to the blue holes. In 1983, he joined a team that was going to Cueva de la Pena Colorada on the southern flanks of the Huautla plateau.

They were on a project that required combinations of different technical skills such as cave exploration, rock climbing, scuba diving, and long-range camping beyond sumps. Rob was just 21 years old at this time, but he was an enthusiastic and energetic young man.

He was with his travel kit, and he had a personal recommendation from Martyn Farr. Rob initiated climbs that led to Narrow Caves, Cueva del Altar, Gourd Cave, and the exploration of Sumps 3 and 6 in the Pena Colorada. He was such a brave man and always committed to anything he did.

A Life Centered Around Expeditions

Rob was never going to be left stranded on any of his expeditions; in the unlikely event that he ran out of money to get a return travel ticket to his home, he would build furniture for his foreign hosts in order to earn money to cater for his needs. If he was not making furniture to earn a living, he would always find something to do to make money.

But above everything else, his life was basically centered around expeditions and explorations, as he always took the lead in them all. Rob was on a voyage to the Bahamas with five other divers. His diving partner, Dan Mallone, and Rob Palmer’s widow, Stephie, were part of the five that went with Rob. They were on a tour to shoot a documentary film about the Blue Holes in honor of Rob Palmer, who died mysteriously during a dive into the Red Sea four months earlier.

The team worked tirelessly for two weeks, diving daily on compressed air to a depth of 197 ft (60 m). After those two weeks of diving and filming, Rob decided to take one more dive before they continued to film again. This would be their opportunity to go further and explore the unknown deep cavern beyond the restriction. Rob wanted to explore the dangerous side passage he heard about together with Dan.

A Fateful Dive: Into the Unknown Deep Cavern

He knew that the filming crew would never let them dive that dangerous passage because of safety reasons, but he figured that if they did the dive before the filming crew joined them, no one would ever know. Dan would join Rob on this dive and 2 support divers stayed in the main cavern. According to their dive plan, they were about to dive 220 ft (67 m) on compressed air and continue to 250 ft (76 m).

Both of them dived open circuit side mount rigs with one tank each of trimix and air due to a narrow restriction at 164 ft (50 m), which is only 2 ft (0.6 m). They had their standard cave diving equipment with them, and they also took along many cylinders of different gas mixes, which they planned using at varying depths and some of which were to be staged for decompression.

Exploring the Depths

They began their dive around 8:00 p.m.; they started with compressed air and left their mixed gas and oxygen cylinders close to the entrance of the cave at a depth of 30 ft (9 m) for decompression. They made their descent through the huge main hall to a rift at the back of the cavern, about 300 ft (91 m) away from the entrance and at a depth of about 120 ft (37 m).

At this point, they staged two more mixed gas cylinders (EANX 36), which they would use for decompression when exiting the cave. The rift is a broad vertical fracture about 2 ft (0.6 m) wide at its entrance, with a differing width of 2 to 20 ft (1 to 6 m) as you dive deeper. No one really knows what the depth of this cavern really is. There is a permanent guideline in the cave, which they used all through their dive.

They continued their dive deep down the rift, passing through a 30 ft (9 m) long restriction, until they got to about 175 ft (53 m) using the permanent guideline. There was another restriction at this point too, but after it was a bigger passageway. They switched their breathing gas after exhausting one-third of it to a Trimix cylinder, which contained 15% oxygen, 40% helium, and 45% nitrogen.

They spent eight minutes diving and were at a depth of 220 ft (67 m) when they had their cylinders switched according to their plan. When they got to the end of the fixed guideline at 12 minutes, Dan had to tie a new reel so that they could proceed with their dive. The passageway at this depth was about 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) wide, but they couldn’t see any sign of its bottom.

They tied off the line and began to exit the cave 20 minutes into their dive. They continued surveying as they dove back to the end of the permanent line. During the survey, the regulator on one of Dan’s Trimix cylinders stopped working, but he continued diving using his other cylinder. He did not inform Rob about this. Upon getting to the permanent line, they both began their ascent following the line.

They planned to switch back to compressed air at 220 ft (67 m) depth. Dan soon ran out of Trimix, and he switched to air at 250 ft (76 m) instead of 220 ft (67 m), where Rob made his own switch according to their plan. It was at 220 ft (67 m) that the two diving buddies had their last conversation, assuring themselves of their well-being.

Rob was leading the dive in single file as they passed beneath a boulder and ascended to a depth of about 180 ft (55 m). Dan noticed that something wasn’t right with Rob at this point, and then he saw him sinking but still breathing. He dived quickly after him, caught him by his ankle, and stopped the descent at a depth of about 230 ft (70 m).

Dan laid hold of Rob by his buoyancy compensator, and they began to swim back to the line. He towed Rob back up to the line as he continued to kick strenuously using his power inflator, but he lost his two fins while doing this. By the time they got to the guideline, Rob had regained consciousness and was able to swim by himself.

The line they were following led into a restriction in which they only had two options: either to pass above the line or to pass beneath the line. Rob chose to swim one foot above the line as he entered the restriction, while Dan, on the other hand, entered below it and continued his dive.

At this point, he was only left with 300 psi in his air cylinder, but he was still breaking through the restriction. He pulled himself through the narrow passageway and then to his decompression tank, which they had earlier staged at a depth of 120 ft (37 m) in the main cavern. Dan breathed twice from the tank, then he turned back to the rift, shone his flashlight into it, and looked for Rob.

Search for a Missing Dive Buddy

He waited for about five minutes, hoping to see his dive buddy emerge from the rift, but there was no sign of anyone coming out of the hollow cave. The last time Dan saw Rob was when he was swimming through the restriction, though he seemed to be negotiating going through the restriction. He then dived to the cavern and rapidly waved with his flashlight to get the attention from the support divers, Tom Iliffe and Gene Flipse.

Finally, he got the attention of Tom, and Dan hand signaled to him that Rob was missing. Tom responded that there was no way that he could pass the tight restriction to save Rob because he was low on air and not skilled enough to get through the restriction. Besides, Dan couldn’t use his decompression air tanks to return to Rob because below 120 ft (36 m) the gas would become toxic.

After the dive, Dan went 3 hours and 20 minutes of decompression while thinking of different scenarios of what could have happened to Rob. The next day, Dan dived together with Stephie and Brian Kakic, an American diver who was specialized in body recoveries. They found Rob’s body at 149 ft (45 m) head down and facing back into the cave in a 24- to 30-inch wide vertical restriction.

However, they were not able to recover the body because the removal had to be timed with the tides. The next day (August 19), two days after Rob went missing, a group of divers returned to the cavern to recover Rob’s body. They included Brian Kakuk, Dan Malone, Stephanie Schwabe, and Tom Iliffe. Because the passage was impenetrable, Brian and Dan found it difficult to read the pressure gauge on his air tank.

The Search for Answers: Recovering Rob Parker’s Body

So they had to remove his equipment in order to move the body through the passage. Brian and Dan moved the body through the restriction about 175 ft (53 m) to the main cavern and passed it to Stephanie and Tom, who were waiting for them. Brian and Dan returned back into the cavern to retrieve Rob’s diving equipment, but they couldn’t find it any longer.

It was assumed that it had dropped into the deep rift and could not be recovered. After his body was brought to the surface, they performed no autopsies on it, but the US coast guard investigator Mike Popovich and the divers involved believed that Rob was suffering from nitrogen narcosis, which caused his disorientation and made him get stuck in the rift.

Brian noted that Rob was a proficient and experienced cave diver who specialized in deep blue holes. He had logged more than 1,000 dives within his few years. Two weeks before his death, he had made several dives, but he had no record of dives in recent times to the depths he reached on August 17. His body was later taken for final burial, and he was mourned by his family and friends, especially those who he had spent time with on adventures.


What happened to Rob Parker during the dive in the Four Shark Cave?

During the dive in the Four Shark Cave, Rob Parker lost consciousness and started sinking at a depth of 180 ft (55 m).

What could have caused Rob’s loss of consciousness?

The exact cause of Rob’s loss of consciousness is unknown, but there are several possibilities, including health issues, faulty equipment, or other factors that may have contributed to the incident.

Was it a result of health issues or a mistake on Rob’s part?

It is unclear whether the loss of consciousness was due to health issues or a mistake on Rob’s part. Without further information, it is difficult to determine the exact cause.

What were the circumstances surrounding the dive in the Four Shark Cave?

Rob Parker, an experienced diver, was exploring the Four Shark Blue Hole with his dive partner, Dan Mallone. They were on a tour to shoot a documentary film about the Blue Holes. The incident occurred during an exploratory dive beyond a dangerous side passage that they planned to explore.

What were the outcomes of the incident and subsequent recovery efforts?

After Rob lost consciousness and sank, Dan Mallone managed to stop the descent and bring Rob back to consciousness. However, Rob chose a different path during their ascent, and he ultimately went missing in a narrow restriction. Recovery efforts were made, and two days later, Rob’s body was found and recovered from the cave. The exact cause of his death was believed to be nitrogen narcosis, but no autopsies were performed.

Rebecca Penrose
Rebecca, an experienced blogger, delves into the world of diving accidents, sharing insights, stories, and valuable lessons learned. Dive in and explore the depths of underwater safety.
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